A Japanese startup company, Interstellar Technologies has successfully launched its experimental sounding rocket, "Momo" into orbit. The launch took place from a test site near Taiki on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on May 4th. This was their third attempt with previous launches failing due to technical difficulties.
Interstellar Technologies' Momo-F3 mission was a complete success. (Image Credit: Kyodo News via AP)
The Momo-F3 reached a peak altitude of 70.5 miles four minutes into its flight, which is past the Kármán line ─ edge of space. After its four-minute ascent, the rocket crashed down into the Pacific Ocean 23 miles away from the launch site after its flight lasted for 8 minutes and 34 seconds. Interstellar Technologies captured the entire flight in the perspective of the viewers on Earth and from the rocket itself. In the mission control room, team members working on this project can be seen celebrating as the Momo-F3 rocket passes the Kármán line, at an altitude of 62 miles.
Interstellar Technologies had two failure test flights. The first one was during the launch of Momo-1 in 2017, where the mission was cut short after 66 seconds of flight time due to a glitch in the telemetry. Even though the mission did not go as planned, Momo-1 was the first private rocket to launch from Japan. Last Summer, Interstellar Technologies ran a second launch, but the mission also failed due to a fiery explosion a few seconds after its launch. The rocket completely lost its thrust right after liftoff because of a glitch in the main engine, causing an explosion and a crash back down to Earth.
Everything went according to plan on their third launch attempt, but the Momo-F3 mission had some setbacks. It was originally scheduled to liftoff in April but had been postponed due to some technical issues in a cryogenic valve. Momo-F3 was ready for launch after maintenance was complete, but weather-related issues like strong winds caused the company to delay it a couple more times. On May 4, Momo-F3 experienced an anomaly just 10 seconds before launch, causing the countdown timer to stop automatically. There wasn't much detail into what was going on with the glitch, but the delay was cut short. The rocket launched 45 minutes later with extra time in its 3-hour launch window.
Momo-F3 is a small sounding rocket that stands at 32 feet tall and weighs over 1 ton. These type of rockets are usually used for small research payloads and experiments conducted in orbit, so they don't need to be as big and powerful as other rockets that launch spacecraft or large satellites. There would be no experiments aboard the Momo-F3 mission because it's only a test flight.
Other privately-owned space companies like Ad Astra Rocket and Rocket Lab will be aiming to make the leap into space in the future. Rocket Lab has already launched a few satellites into space - low orbit around Earth by using their Electron space vehicle to supply their launches. Ad Astra Rocket will be redefining how rockets are launched into space by using different electric propulsion methods. This will help will chemical efficiency while keeping energy costs down. They also power up unmanned vehicles for slow voyages in space.
Interstellar Technologies plans on making improvements to its Momo rocket series while coming up with a new one named Zero. Zero will be able to launch small satellites too big for Momo to launch into space. Test flights are scheduled for sometime in 2020.
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